Pakistan could hardly be embarking on its One-Day series with England in better spirits. Not only did it claim a hugely credible 2-2 draw in the Test series in England, but on Monday it rose to the top of the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings, taking the spot from rivals India.
It is the first time Pakistan has held the honor since the rankings came into place in 2003, and it would be hard to argue that it was not fully deserved. It came thanks to an emphatic 10-wicket win over England in the final Test last week, while the success has also been achieved during a period in which Pakistan has been forced to play its home matches in the United Arab Emirates.
But attention has had to quickly switch to cricket’s 50-over format and a five-match series against England, which begins in Southampton on Wednesday. Pakistan will go into the series without the inspirational leadership of Misbah ul-Haq and instead will be captained by batsman Azhar Ali.
In contrast to its fine Test form, Pakistan has struggled in One-Day Internationals. Following recent comprehensive defeats in New Zealand and against England in the UAE last November, Pakistan sits down in ninth place in the ODI rankings. But the team will have the advantage of having a short series against Ireland under its belt ahead of meeting England. Having stormed to a 255-run victory in Dublin last week, before the second match was washed out, Ali insists the side is full of belief.
“We’re very confident,” he said. “We all know its a bigger challenge, but we’re all very excited, the guys, the way they're shaping up, especially the youngsters coming in, the guys who are coming back into the team. We’re all looking very good, so as a unit we’re very confident right now.”
It promises to be a tough challenge, though, going up against an England team which has been on the rise. Since the huge failure of the team’s performance in last year’s World Cup, England has undergone a major evolution in its limited-overs cricket and has received immediate reward. There have been series wins over New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, with only South Africa narrowly getting the best of Eoin Morgan’s side.
One of the ways in which England has evolved is with greater variation in its bowling attack. And that could be in even greater evidence in the first ODi. With slow conditions expected, and upcoming tours of Bangladesh and India, Morgan has suggested that Liam Dawson could come into the lineup to form a three-pronged spin assault alongside Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
“Having Liam Dawson brings the option of playing three spinners and that is something we might have to take into consideration as we look ahead to the winter tours of Bangladesh and India,” he said.
"It will be a very tough series against Pakistan, especially as the recent weather means conditions may suit them more than they suit us initially. It is a good test leading into the winter.”
There has been good news on the injury front for England, with scans revealing that all-rounder David Willey has not fractured a hand as had originally been feared. While he will still miss the opening ODI, he will join the squad in time for the second contest at Lord’s on Saturday.
England Squad for ODi Series vs. Pakistan
Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willy, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
Azhar Ali (captain), Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Sami Aslam, Sarfraz Ahmed, Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah
ODI Series Schedule (all times EDT)
1st ODI: Wednesday, Aug. 24, 9 a.m. (Rose Bowl, Southampton)
2nd ODI: Saturday, Aug. 27, 5.30 a.m. (Lord’s, London)
3rd ODI: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 9 a.m. (Trent Bridge, Nottingham)
4th ODI: Thursday, Sep. 1, 9 a.m. (Headingley, Leeds)
5th ODI: Sunday, Sep. 4, 1.30 p.m. (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Live Streaming Info: All matches live on ESPN3.